The April 24, 2013, collapse killed more than 1,100 people and injured more than 2,500—making it the world’s worst industrial structure failure. Most victims were women. Most were poor. I happened to be nearby that day, but I kept a respectful distance. The rescue workers didn’t need a white guy poking his nose into the nation’s rubble.
Recently, American Apparel’s controversial “Made in Bangladesh” campaign stoked the debate about working conditions in the nation. Ads show a bare-breasted girl—Maks is her name—as the embodiment of modern Bangladeshi feminism. The campaign generated praise and condemnation in equal measure around the world. If nothing else, it reminded media that Bangladesh still exists.
Similarly, the BBC produced an exposé-style documentary from Bangladesh earlier this year, reminding viewers how the abuse and exploitation of young and vulnerable girls continue in seedy garment factories. These sweatshops produce 60 percent of Europe’s apparel exports and 40 percent of America’s. Such media attention does nothing to improve the reputation of Bangladesh.
I couldn’t help but consider all of this as I read Monica Ali’s award-winning debut novel Brick Lane. Set on and around the events of 9/11, Brick Lane primarily focuses on life in Britain for Nazneen, the protagonist. This poor, non-English-speaking Muslim Bangladeshi girl has been brought to Britain for an arranged marriage.”